Andrea Kowch, An Eclectix Artist Interview
There is a beautiful and surreal haunting quality to Andrea’s resplendent imagery, with an overall ambiance of frozen moments in time. Magical female personas share sisterly relationships confronting the viewer, and dominating stark landscapes. Feasts are prepared from farmed abundance while ominous birds flock and insects alight. Clouds of wild hair fly askew in a contrary wind and fields of wheat bow under pressures.
When viewing Andrea’s works, the paintings of the mid-17th century Dutch school with their images of domestic life and inner households might come to mind. Italian Renaissance painters, Vermeer, Bruegel and the mid wests of Andrew Wyeth – could also be seen as influences. But though her works are classical in style, they are decidedly salt-of-the-earth American, portraying hardworking immigrant narratives within radiant prairie landscapes. The forgotten and often ignored domestic inner worlds of “women’s work” are heroically honored and paid tribute to. Her dreamy surreal tableaus emanate timeless human hope, morphing American and European history, going beyond the daily grind to suggest something more – an ethereal connection to a superior spirit world.
Andrea just had her 5th consecutive sold out solo exhibition Across a Rural Skyline at RJD Gallery in Sag Harbor, NY. They’ve produced a very limited edition of 10 hand-signed and numbered archival prints of these new paintings. Information and ordering details can be found on the RJD Gallery website, here.
Do you work full-time on your art or do you also have another job/interest?
I am a full-time artist, both literally and figuratively. In addition to that, I also recently became an adjunct professor at my alma mater, the College for Creative Studies, where I teach an undergraduate course in Figure Drawing. The decision to accept a teaching position on top of my already busy career was made out of my need to give back in some significant way. Training and imparting my advice and knowledge to students on behalf of helping them realize and discover their true creative strengths and artistic paths is extremely rewarding.
One of the moments I savor most about teaching, I’ve found, is when I take a brief step back from instructing and just observe the students working. Music plays, the figure model is seated up on the platform, and each student is engrossed in their drawing, pencils and pieces of charcoal moving every which way, and their minds and spirits completely entwined as their focused eyes and hands work feverishly in unison to grasp, understand, and express everything that is before them. The room becomes one big bubble of harmonious, creative energy and it’s fascinating to behold.
Your female figures often seem to be related or the same model… can you tell us a little about them?
All of my models are people and dear friends that I know and include in my paintings on a consistent basis. My paintings began featuring one of my best childhood friends whom I’ve known since the age of 7 or 8. After a while, her younger sister began appearing in my work along with her, followed by others whom I’ve befriended later on. They are all wonderful people with very differing dispositions and personalities. They each carry a specific quality that is uniquely them, and oftentimes, that particular quality happens to be one that I also possess or resonate with on some hidden level—as if each one of them, in some way or another, is an extension of me—and that is a factor that draws me in and to them, and subsequently inspires me to include them in my scenes.
At this point, I work with five different female models and one male, all dear friends at this point, and we always have the best, memorable, fun times dressing and acting out my ideas in the photo-shoots. When I come up with an idea, I pretty much immediately know who will be starring in the scene, based upon how he or she “fits” within it for me, both visually, emotionally, and so on. Physically, I am drawn to faces and figures, which, like their personalities, also trigger an emotional response within me. This happens very naturally, and strikes out of nowhere. My models possess a natural beauty and realness that starts from within and radiates out through their physical form—classical features that emanate a timelessness, which is very important in my work, as my subject matter overrides any specific time period. They are classic and modern at the same time, and are my beloved “cast” that I have the joy and privilege of knowing and working with. The fact that they will all live on and be known for generations through my paintings makes my heart smile, as they are all people who I care for and appreciate having in my life.
My favorite art memory from my childhood is …
Drawing my favorite things, and painting outdoors in my parents’ backyard when school was out for the summer. My friends would come over asking me to come out and play, and there I would be practicing my painting, learning, striving, and teaching myself how to be “as good as the masters”. I set very high standards and goals for myself from a very early age and held myself accountable to achieving them. My passion for being a great artist always came first in my life, and that passion especially took hold of me when I entered adolescence. As it was then, so it still is now—I give my all to everything I do in life, and even more intensely now as an adult. It’s just my nature and who I am. I’m a perfectionist in all I do.
When I was a little kid, I wanted to be …
An artist…and one, that, according to my 7-year-old self, “can make more than 100 beautiful pictures per minute!”. I can only imagine where I would be right now if such a lofty idea and endeavor were even remotely possible.
My interest in art started …
Very early on in my life. I always loved picture books and drawing pictures as a child, telling visual stories fully set with figures, landscapes, and various other details. Every inch of the paper was filled and colored in completely, and executed with much careful thought.
In junior high school I started winning awards and was commissioned to do a portrait of the school’s namesake, Virgil I. Grissom, the US astronaut. At 13 years old, that was my first big endeavor, and as a result, I remember that painting taking over much of my life at the time. It was a very pivotal turning point in my young life and it really led me to figure out what it was I truly loved doing the most, and I took the experience very seriously.
As I moved through my senior high school years, I continued to concentrate deeply on my art, winning multiple significant awards that kept fueling my motivation to keep working, such as several Gold Keys and Gold Awards from the Scholastic Art Awards on both the regional and national level, as well as being among a select handful of (20) chosen visual arts students to be recognized nationally by the National Young Arts Foundation (formerly known as National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts (NFAA)) in 2005, when I was 19 years old and in my first year of college. Fast-forward to graduating with my BFA degree in 2009 and the 2010 exclusive partnership I formed with my current gallery, here I am. The rest is history, as they say, and I am gratefully immersing myself in every moment along the way. The journey of Life and the ways in which one’s destiny unfolds is truly an amazing, special thing.
An interesting bit of history surrounding one of my distant relatives is …
My family lineage on my father’s side carries a 300-year-long history of priesthood. My great-grandfather in particular left an immense mark on that legacy, becoming beatified in 2001, by Pope John Paul II, in recognition of his martyrdom during World War II.
I am often inspired and motivated by …
So many things—farms, trees, weather, rural landscapes, abandoned farm houses and barns, history, emotions, feelings, experiences, memories, longings, mystery, melancholic beauty, nature, spirit, wisdom, insight, a sense of magic within the commonplace, long drives, visiting museums, long walks in nature, wide, open spaces, my fascination with the human psyche, love, deep soul connections I feel with special people in my life, Americana—all the stuff that the American Midwest is made of.
I find that the desolate, expansive landscapes of rural America, particularly the Midwest, parallel the human condition in many profound ways. I was born and raised in the Midwest, and it will always be an integral part of me. It evokes and emphasizes the essence and haunting beauty that is solitude. I learn more and more each day that not everything is meant to be understood nor should be, and thus I strive to ensure that much of the meaning behind my paintings remains fluid and open to interpretation. But before I even come to realize many of the “deeper” concepts that are at work in my paintings, I know internally that the initial spark for my “visions” is Michigan. It’s where I was born and is the land my heart will always call “home”. It’s the catalyst for my imaginary musings.
If I could spend the day with any artist (dead or alive) it would be …
Andrew Wyeth. From what I’ve read about this fascinating artist’s life, and then considering the things that make me tick, we would probably take a long walk down a farm road together and discuss life, art, and how and why our subject matter moves us so deeply. I could see us digging deep into the core of what drives our emotions and passions, which, in turn, informs our art in such profound ways. Of all the artist biographies I’m aware of, I feel I can relate to Andrew Wyeth the most.
Georgia O’Keeffe would be a close second, based on aspects of her life path and experiences as a female artist. I could see us discussing that as well as the same topics listed for Andrew Wyeth. Both artists were very connected to their respective environments and that sense of place that neither could ever live or paint without strikes a very deep cord with me, for I, too, can’t imagine straying far from this landscape around me that serves as the cradle to my creativity. There’s clearly an unspoken, indescribable mystical “feeling” that possesses us, that, by some kind of supernatural force or other, keeps an enchanted hold on us that always pulls us back “home”.
The art technique that has helped me the most is ….
There are a few, and one, in particular, is the simple, constant act of checking in and evaluating my work by observing it from a distance and in various types of lighting while it’s in progress. I can’t tell you how many times I dodge back and forth across to the opposite side of my studio to gauge how everything is working together in a composition. I need to maintain a full-knowing of where my paintings are going directionally at all times.
Perhaps this stems a lot from my own deep need to always feel in control of whatever it is I’m doing, and to envision, understand, and consider every possible outcome of a situation before diving in and finalizing anything. I like to have a firm idea of how a painting will look in its completion. Yes, I allow paintings to evolve and change course in the middle of their progress if needed—whatever is best for a work, no matter what stage of completion it is at, there is no doubt that I will not rest until I achieve a final result that is to my satisfaction. I leave no stone unturned, and, despite whatever changes may occur to any given work for whatever reason, there is still always a “big picture” that I keep in mind and work on behalf of at all times, nonetheless.
If I could own one piece of art, out of the world’s collections, it would be …
Too many to list, but if I had to really choose just one, it would probably have to be Leonardo da Vinci’s “Portrait of Ginevra de Benci”. To me it personifies everything I seek to achieve in painting regarding human flesh, form, and the magnetic, ambiguous air of mystery that surrounds the enigmatic sitter.
My current favorite piece of my own art is …
Each painting that I have done and continue to do, is special to me, because each one is a part of me, each is a page out of the diary of my life’s journey, in visual, allegorical form, and each painting is brought to life with my full, undivided attention, time, and energy. Each painting is carefully nurtured “into being”. There is no painting that I do to simply “do”, just like there is nothing in life that I commit myself to half-heartedly—especially my work. I show up and give my all. As a result, it is very difficult—impossible, really—to answer this very commonly asked question. A “current” favorite choice is usually whatever current piece I am working on, due to the creative cocktail of excitement, motivation, and everything else that drives me to go so far as to even decide that an idea is worth the tireless amount of hours that are required to be spent on it over weeks and months to bring it to fruition. Therefore, when you consider all of that, it’s obvious that I have to be VERY excited and sure about an idea in order to undertake the whole course of the creation process for it and everything that that process entails.
With that said, each new painting brings forth its own new set of challenges and higher set of bars that I work tirelessly at until achieved. “The Feast” (below), as an example, was a major artistic milestone for me in particular because it marked a significant turning point in my work, my series, and my development and advancement as an artist. It was my first large-scale piece of its kind and the biggest undertaking for me on all levels at that point in my life.
When I evaluate whether an idea is good or not, the most important elements are …
Mood, composition, and narrative, to name a major few. It has to carry a certain power and seductive mystery about it, make me ponder, and grip my soul and excite my spirit beyond measure. I know an idea is good when I can hardly contain myself over the thought of bringing it to life. There is no feeling quite like it. It’s like a higher power speaking through me in that moment. When an idea hits me in such a profound way, the elation I feel in that moment transcends time and space. It’s a flashing, fleeting moment, but the mark it leaves causing me to scramble about for a pencil and piece of paper so as to not lose any ounce of the “vision” is something utterly supernatural and even somewhat miraculous in its own right.
The most memorable thing anyone has ever said to me about my art is …
Comparisons to films, literature, and so on, are always very interesting (and often extremely flattering) to hear. But what touches and resonates with me the most is whenever I hear how deeply my work touches someone on an inner level in ways they cannot put into words. It’s always memorable and extremely validating. I would say my fondest experiences of this are when viewers are brought to tears by what my paintings make them feel. As an artist, does it really get any better than that?
Knowing that something you’ve put your heart and soul into creating has the power to connect, spark moving reactions, unearth innate feelings, invite various levels of awareness, and lead others on journeys of imagination to places into the far reaches of themselves—places sometimes so deep or hidden that the viewers themselves don’t realize they exist—is one of the most rewarding moments I can experience through my work. I also especially love when I receive the occasional email from a farmer, for farmers are the ones actually living and experiencing most of the environments and scenes that I paint. Listening to them identifying with the settings, tasks, and range of emotions expressed throughout the scenes, and finding a level of strange solace in their familiarity, is really special for me. I hold farmers in such high esteem for all that they do. Their daily connection to the earth and tireless work to harvest all that it provides us with, is, to me, a very valiant duty, and they have my unending respect and support. If my work succeeds at all in paying any sort of tribute to these people and their way of life, and subsequently arouses others to take notice and pay their respects just same, then I know I’ve done well in that aspect of my mission.
My ultimate project or fantasy is … Whatever I’m working on at the moment.
I am currently working on ….
I am currently working on new paintings that continue to expand upon the themes already present in my work, documenting my own evolution and personal discoveries as a “student of life”. I continue to gain inspiration from life experiences and the world and people around me through my personal lens. My work is always an ongoing exploration of nature and the human condition.
I am especially excited to begin my new phase of work, which is comprising of compositions and subject matter that cover new ground and mark new turning points for me—such as the introduction and inclusion of the male form now (below), shifting a bit from the all-feminine point of view that has defined my work to date. It’s a new direction that I am thrilled to dive into and watch unfold, and it’s inspired by some of the changes taking place in my own life at this time. I am opening up to discovering and observing much more closely than before, how the yin and yang energies are always at work in our lives both literally and figuratively. There is a feminine and masculine side to all things, apart from the obvious, and the ways in which these energies complement and enhance once another, is something that has sparked my interest and attention as of late, and thus is the path I am following and exploring at the moment. The presence of more masculine objects and technology may also begin showing themselves as a result, serving as further emblems of this dynamic. I’m staying open to the influences of the various forms of stimuli currently around me, and allowing my instincts to guide me towards new concepts and approaches to my themes and subject matter.
A specific event in my life that sparked a number of my works was ….
There have been periods of time where certain experiences demanded a great deal of understanding and personal growth and transformation on my part. Revisiting those memories, whether consciously or subconsciously, has fueled and driven much, if not most, of my work. I experienced a somewhat life-changing experience around the age of 17 that taught me many lessons and forced me to grow. It was not easy, for I was young, and it brought out some of my worst emotions, emotions that I harbored within me for some years afterwards. Fortunately, the past is the past, so much so, that it feels like another lifetime upon thinking of it. When I move on, I move on, and seldom look back or hold onto anything that does not serve me.
My painting No Turning Back (below, 2009) specifically symbolizes this breakthrough and where I was emotionally at the time, and will always remain one of my most personal pieces of all time. I’m always moving forward, and happiness is what I live by. But my art saved me and became more important to me than ever before during that time in my life, and it was the fierce passion that I pursued it with that carried and continues to carry me through anything. Painting is my oxygen. Being in front of my easel is where I feel safe and complete, no matter what’s going on around me. I’m always true to myself and live by a strong moral code, and I believe that that, and everything that results from that, is a major aspect of my life and self from which my subject matter and themes for my work are born.
If I could time travel – the era or historical date I would like to drop in on is …
Turn-of-the Century America, as well as Victorian/Turn-of-the-Century England.
My love of antique objects and history from that time period are constant sources of inspiration for my imagination and ideas. While I’m not sure exactly “why” that is, there is a level of romanticism I associate with it, and that alone is what draws me in and holds my wonder and curiosity. It was a time of great innovation and transition, yet the simplicity and elegance that laced the period makes for a very enticing mix. I’m a bit old-fashioned and attracted to the strong sense of tradition, manners, and values that existed then as well.
I have a deep admiration and respect for history and historical objects. They keep us mindful of the past, encourage us to consciously observe and appreciate the present, and invite us to marvel about the future. This is one of the reasons why my work often feels like a fusion of time periods. It’s both a result of me painting what interests me as well as my desire to create a feeling of timelessness, for the human experience, in my opinion, transcends both space and time.
The last song I choose to listen to was …
“Crown Estate” by Piano Magic
The last book I couldn’t put down was …
Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life
My favorite character in a work of fiction is …
Jane Eyre. Though it’s often a tie between her and Emily Bronte’s Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights.
One of my favorite words is …
One of my favorite smells is …
Fresh coffee brewing first thing in the morning, especially on the mornings I am up early enough to catch the splendor of the sunrise, tuning into the feelings in my body as it awakens to greet the day, and at the same time giving thanks for all I have and for all the great things yet to come as I move forth to seize the day with honor and purpose.
While it’s taken a few years, experiences, and time spent working on myself to “know myself” and fully embrace this attitude, I did it, and consistently choose and seek to see the light in life. At the same time, I acknowledge and honor the positive changes and transformations that shaped me into who I am today, shifts that only life’s darker moments could have ever opened my eyes to realizing in the first place. There is light in everything if we choose to see it, and reminding myself that there is a positive lesson to be learned in everything that we experience preserves my well-being and sense of peace, understanding, and awareness.
One of my (recently) favorite movies/TV shows is …
“Far From the Madding Crowd”
I can’t live without …
The blessings in my life
It’s not hip, but I really love …
Exercising and taking long, very brisk walks and tuning into the natural world around me whenever I can. I also love spending quiet time alone with my thoughts, listening, learning, growing, improving, feeling, and simply being.
My favorite part of my home is …
I would have to say that my favorite part of my home is its windows. I live in a 3-story townhouse in the historic business district of a rural, Victorian village that was founded in the 1830s. Light floods through my home all day long through tall, east and west-facing windows. As a result, I have the pleasure and privilege of waking up with the sunrise, and watching the day draw to a close with the setting sun. My studio, where I spend 90% of my time, and my kitchen and living room, which open onto an east-facing and west-facing outdoor balcony respectively, overlook my village and are the main areas of my home where I spend most of my time, though there truly is no part of my home that I don’t enjoy. I sincerely love it all and take pride in the time and attention I put into it to make it my own. All visitors inquire as to whether I’ve ever been an interior designer or studied it. No, but if I wasn’t a painter, I probably would have. I enjoy it and approach everything in my space as if I was one.
The continuous movement of people and cars on the streets below by building, and the sounds of life throughout the day, keep me feeling connected to the outside world, which is especially treasured during those intense weeks I must spend extra long hours alone in the studio to complete work deadlines. When needed, I have only to look out the window to see the action happening around me to remind myself that I am not alone by any means, and I treasure my meals and coffee or tea breaks outdoors on my balconies. There is also a cozy corner of my kitchen in front of one of the large east-facing windows that I designated as a small reading area, where a comfortable antique chair and pouf to kick my feet up on are set. This view looks onto my front Main Street balcony, and it is especially relaxing when I make some time to spend a few quiet moments sitting there with cup of coffee while indulging in a bit of reading or people watching. I love experiencing the passing seasons from the window as well, cozying up to a snowfall as I watch it through the panes of glass or feeling the soft breeze of a summer day flow over me when the window is open. It’s the little things and those serene moments that I find so very, very special and necessary to my life and creativity.
If I could live anywhere in the world, where would that be?
At this time I am living exactly where I want to live. Becoming a homeowner has been my biggest personal milestone to date. I worked very hard and earned my own way to get here and love my location, surroundings, and community. It brings me great joy and peace, and keeps me deeply connected to my work. I wake up every morning with a smile on my face and a heart full of gratitude—as well as a longer “To-Do” list, BUT—it is all GOOD.
My favorite motto (or quote) is …
“The job of the artist is to deepen the mystery”
“Time is precious, use it wisely”
“We will be known forever by the tracks we leave” – Native American Proverb